Great Lakes Algonquian syllabary
|Great Lakes Algonquian Syllabary
|Languages||Fox, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe|
|Time period||mid nineteenth century-present|
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabary (also called the Great Lakes Aboriginal syllabics) is the name given to a writing system that emerged during the nineteenth century and whose existence was first noted in 1880. The syllabary was originally used by speakers of several Algonquian languages south of the Great Lakes: Fox (also known as Meskwaki or Mesquakie), Sac (the latter also spelled Sauk), and Kickapoo, these three constituting closely related but politically distinct dialects of a single language for which there is no common term; in addition to Potawatomi. Use of the syllabary was subsequently extended to the Siouan language Ho-Chunk (also known as Winnebago). Use of the Great Lakes syllabary has also been attributed to speakers of the Ottawa dialect (also spelled Odawa) of the Ojibwe language, but supporting evidence is weak.
The Great Lakes syllabary is most accurately described as a syllabary that is based upon the characters of an alphabet. Consonant and vowel letters that comprise a syllable are grouped into units that are separated by spacing from adjacent units. The system is of interest to students of writing systems because it represents a case of an alphabetic system evolving into a syllabary.
Since it resembles cursive Roman script, it has not been included in Unicode.
History and origins
The origin and early development of the system is not known. In 1880 when first reported, use of the syllabary was indicated to be widespread among speakers of Fox and Sac. Some remarks by Potawatomi speakers suggest that the first Potawatomi usage was in approximately the same period.
Potawatomi does not have the phoneme /h/, and instead has a glottal stop /ʔ/ in places where Fox would have /h/. In Potawatomi the glottal stop is not represented in the syllabary, and in Fox /h/ is the only consonantal sound that is not represented. This anomaly in the inventory of consonant sounds has led to the suggestion that the syllabary was first used by speakers of Potawatomi, and subsequently transmitted to speakers of Fox, Sac, and Kickapoo. It would be otherwise difficult to explain why the /h/ sound is not included in the Fox versions of the syllabary even though the sound is not difficult to perceive, whereas the glottal stop, as in Potawatomi, often is.
The syllabary is based upon “… a European cursive form of the roman alphabet.”  Vowel letters are used to represent sounds that correspond with French writing conventions, suggesting a possible French source.
Samples of the Fox version of the syllabary are in Jones (1906), and Walker (1981, 1996); the latter includes handwriting samples for each character or compound character from four different early twentieth-century Fox writers. Samples of the Potawatomi syllabary characters are in Walker (1981, 1986). Goddard (1996) includes a postcard written in the Fox syllabary, and Kinkade and Mattina (1996) includes a page of text in the Fox syllabary. Samples of the characters used in the Ho-Chunk syllabary are available at Ho-Chunk Syllabary.
The versions of the syllabary used by the Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo groups have only minor differences. This section outlines the main characteristics of the Fox variant, which is the most completely described in published sources. A brief discussion of the Sauk version has also been published. Fox speakers refer to the syllabary in both Fox and English as the pa·pe·pi·po·, referring to the first row of consonant plus vowel syllables in traditional presentations of the syllabary.
The core component of the Fox syllabary represents 48 syllables, 4 of which are vowels by themselves, in addition to compound characters that consist of 11 consonant symbols combined with one of the four vowel characters. The syllabary writes all the consonant and vowels sounds of Fox with the exception of /h/. As well, no distinction is made between long and short vowels. A sequence of two vowels in the syllabary typically indicates the presence of /h/ between the two vowels.
Syllables are separated by spaces. Punctuation consists of a word divider used to mark the end of a word and the beginning of the next word, “…which variously appears as a dot, a small line, or an <X> or <+> … Many writers do not use the word divider, being particularly apt to omit it at line ends, and some never use it.”  Jones (1906) indicated that the dot or small line were used as word dividers and the cross as a sentence divider, but subsequent study of Fox text manuscripts does not support this claim.
Several variants of the basic syllabary existed among Fox speakers, in which various symbols were substituted for combinations of consonant and vowel letters. These variants were apparently originally used as secret codes and were not widely utilized. Samples of the variant forms are in Walker (1981), from Jones (1906).
There are also minor variations in the form of the syllabary used by Kickapoo speakers, and Kickapoo speakers living in Mexico have added some orthographic modifications based on Spanish.
Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) adoption of the syllabary
The Fox version of the syllabary was adapted by speakers of Ho-Chunk (also known as Winnebago) subsequent to an encounter in Nebraska in 1883-1884 with Fox speakers, who told them of other Fox speakers who were using a new writing system in order to write their own language. On a subsequent visit to Fox territory in Iowa in 1884, a Winnebago speaker learned to write in the syllabary. Period reports indicate rapid adoption of the syllabary by Winnebago speakers in Nebraska and Wisconsin. Winnebago phonology is significantly different from that of Fox-Sauk-Kickapoo and Potawatomi, with both more consonants and vowels, and the syllabary was adapted in order to accommodate some of these differences.
Anthropologist Paul Radin worked with Ho-Chunk speaker Sam Blowsnake to produce Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian. This autobiography was based upon handwritten material composed by Blowsnake in the syllabary. Use of the syllabary declined over time; when Radin visited Winnebago communities in 1912 he reported that it was known only to a small number of people.
Possible Ottawa use of the syllabary
Some comments by Ottawa speaker Andrew J. Blackbird “…in which he recalls his father Mackadepenessy ‘making his own alphabet which he called ‘Paw-pa-pe-po’” and teaching it to other Ottawas from the L'Arbre Croche village on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan have been interpreted as suggesting use of a syllabic writing system by Ottawas earlier in the nineteenth century, although Blackbird was not himself a user of the syllabary. Blackbird’s Ottawa writings use a mixture of French and English-based characteristics, but not those of Great Lakes syllabary. There are no known Odawa texts written in the syllabary.
It has been suggested that Blackbird’s father may been referring to a separate orthography developed by French Roman Catholic missionaries and spread by missionary August Dejean, who arrived at L'Arbre Croche, Michigan in 1827, and wrote a primer and catechism in an orthography similar to that used by other French missionaries.
Ojibwa use of the syllabary
In his 1932 "Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians," Huron H. Smith records, "The Ojibwe have written their language for a longer time than any other Algonquin tribe and, while they employ a syllabary in corresponding with absent members of the tribe, it has little value to the ethnologist...." Smith then clarifies what he means by 'syllabary' and provides a syllabary table in the footnotes.
Materials written in the syllabary
In the early twentieth century, Bureau of American Ethnology linguist Truman Michelson engaged several Fox speakers to write stories using the Fox syllabary. Some of these texts are lengthy, running to several hundred printed pages each. A large collection of these unpublished texts is now archived in the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives. A photograph of Michelson and prolific Fox writer Albert Kiyana appears in Kinkade and Mattina (1996). Kiyana wrote stories for Michelson between 1911 and his death in 1918. A newly edited and transcribed version of “Owl Sacred Pack,” one of the culturally most significant of the stories written by Kiyana has recently been published.
Because Great Lakes Aboriginal syllabics is not part of the Unicode standards, glyphs for this table have been substituted with approximated handwritten forms.
|'||'||'||'||' / h|
|a¹||a / á||a||a||a||a / aa|
|a(Hn)²||aanh / aany|
|d(A)²||š / š'|
|e||e / é||e / é||e||e³||e|
|e(Hn)²||enh / eny|
|g‘||-g||-g||kw||kw / gw|
|H(A)¹ ²||x / x'|
|i||i / í||i||i||i³||i / ii|
|i(Hn)²||iinh / iiny|
|K||g||g||g||k||k / g|
|K(A)²||k / k'||k||k|
|l(A)²||p / p'||p||p|
|o||o||o||o||o³||o / oo|
|o(Hn)²||oonh / oony|
|q‘||gw||gw / ġ||kw|
|q(A)²||kw||kw / ḳ|
|r(A)²||s / s'|
|s||r||z||z||s||s / z|
|t||d||d||d||t / d|
|t(A)²||t / t'||t||t|
|tt(A)²||č / č'||ch||ch|
|x(A)¹ ²||x / x'|
- ¹ Depending on the style, "a" or "u", "g" or "q", "H" or "x", and "I" or "y" are used.
- ² The portion shown within the parentheses are not always written.
- ³ Meskwaki <e>, <i> and <o>, and Ho-chunk <i> may be shown using vowel dots instead of vowel letter.
- Meshkwaki language
- Menomini language
- Odawa language
- Potawatomi language
- Sac language
- Ho-Chunk language
- Walker, Willard, 1996; Goddard, Ives, 1996
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 123
- Walker, Willard, 1996, pp. 168-173
- Walker, Willard, 1996, p. 169
- Justeson, John and Laurence Stevens, 1991-1993
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 116
- Walker, Willard, 1981, p. 169
- Walker, Willard, 1981; Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 126
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 127
- Jones, William, 1906; Walker, Willard, 1981, pp. 158-159; Walker, Willard, 1996, pp. 170-171
- Walker, Willard, 1981, p. 160; Walker, Willard, 1996, p. 172
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 124; Kinkade, Dale and Anthony Mattina, 1996, p. 250, Fig. 3
- Reinschmidt, Kirsten, 1995
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 117
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, pp. 117-119
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 120
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 120; Jones, William, 1906, p. 91
- Jones, William, 1906; Walker, Willard, 1981, pp. 158-159
- Walker, Willard, 1996, pp. 169, 171
- Fletcher, Alice, 1890
- Walker, Willard, 1981, p. 162
- Blowsnake, Sam, 1920
- Walker, Willard, 1981, p.162
- Walker, Willard, 1981, pp. 161-162; Walker, Willard, 1996, pp. 172-173
- Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 127; Walker, Willard, 1996, p. 169
- Smith, p. 335
- Kinkade, Dale and Anthony Mattina, 1996, p. 250, Fig. 3
- Goddard, Ives, 2007
- Blackbird, Andrew J. 1887. History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan: A grammar of their language, and personal and family history of the author. Ypsilanti, MI: The Ypsilantian Job Printing House. (Reprinted as: Complete both early and late history of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan [etc.].) Harbor Springs, MI. Babcock and Darling.
- Cappel, Constance, 2006. Odawa Lanquage and Legends: Andrew J. Blackbird, and Raymond Kiogima, Bloomington, IN: Xlibris.
- Blowsnake, Sam. 1920. Edited and translated by Paul Radin. Crashing Thunder: The autobiography of a Winnebago Indian. University of California publications in American archaeology and ethnology, volume 16, no. 7. University of California Press.
- Fletcher, Alice. 1890. “A phonetic alphabet used by the Winnebago tribe of Indians.” Journal of American Folk-Lore 3:299-301.
- Goddard, Ives. 1988. “Stylistic dialects in Fox linguistic change.” Jacek Fisiak, ed. Historical dialectology, pp. 193–209. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Goddard, Ives. 1990. “Some literary devices in the writings of Alfred Kiyana.” W. Cowan, ed., Papers of the twenty-first Algonquian Conference, pp. 159–171. Ottawa: Carleton University.
- Goddard, Ives. 1996. “Writing and reading Mesquakie (Fox).” W. Cowan, ed., Papers of the twenty-seventh Algonquian Conference, pp. 117–134. Ottawa: Carleton University.
- Goddard, Ives. 2007. The Owl Sacred Pack: A New Edition and Translation of the Meskwaki Manuscript of Alfred Kiyana. Edited and translated by Ives Goddard. University of Manitoba: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics.
- Jones, William. 1906. “An Algonquian syllabary.” Berthold Lanfer, ed., Boas anniversary volume: Anthropological papers written in honor of Franz Boas, pp. 88–93. New York: G.E. Stechert.
- Jones, William. 1939. “Ethnography of the Fox Indians.” Margaret W. Fisher, ed., Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 125. Washington.
- Justeson, John S. and Laurence D. Stevens. 1991-1993. “The evolution of syllabaries from alphabets: Transmission, language contrast, and script typology.” Die Sprache 35: 2-46
- Kinkade, Dale, and Anthony Mattina. “Discourse.” Ives Goddard, ed., The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17. Languages, pp. 244–274. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.
- Michelson, Truman. 1927. “Fox linguistic notes.” L. Friederichsen, ed., Festschrift Meinhof: Sprachwissenschaftliche und andere Studien, pp. 403–408. Gluckstadt und Hamburg: J.J. Augustin.
- Reinschmidt, Kirsten Müller. 1995. “Language preservation with the help of written language: The Sauk language of the Sac and Fox of Oklahoma.” David H. Pentland, ed., Papers of the twenty-sixth Algonquian Conference, pp. 413–430. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.
- Smith, Huron H. 1932. “Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians.” Bulletin of the Public Museum of Milwaukee, 4:327-525.
- Thomason, Lucy. 2003. The proximate and obviative contrast in Meskwaki. PhD dissertation. University of Texas, Austin.
- Walker, Willard. 1974. “The Winnebago syllabary and the generative model.” Anthropological Linguistics 16(8): 393-414.
- Walker, Willard. 1981. “Native American writing systems.” Charles A. Ferguson and Shirley Brice Heath, eds. Language in the USA, pp. 145-174. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Walker, Willard. 1996. “Native writing systems.” Ives Goddard, ed., The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17. Languages, pp. 158–184. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.
- Internet Archive of "Potawatomi syllabics", originally located at http://www.potawatomilang.org
- Ho-Chunk syllabics
- Foster's vocabulary list
- Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride – a Ho-Chunk story
- Potawatomi Words at Wisconsin Historical Society collections (written with superfluous diacritic marks and use of "b" instead of "l")